Girl Talk headlines a successful Big Event

Alex Schaaf and Tom Pilcher

Disclosure: Alex Schaaf is a member of The Chairs. He was not involved in the writing or editing of any part of this article pertaining to that band.The months leading up to this year’s SOUP sponsored Big Event were filled with more unanswered questions and rumors than ever before, all of which were conclusively answered by Monday night’s performance from Girl Talk, Reel Big Fish, and Lawrence’s own The Chairs.
There was the Third Eye Blind rumor, the confusion about the dance-off, and perhaps most relevant, the question of how Lawrence students would respond to the singular, sweat-soaked experience that is a Girl Talk concert. However, by the time I arrived at the rec. center Monday night, all of these questions seemed to be irrelevant because of the anxious energy filling the room.
The Chairs started early because of some miscommunication about how long the band could play, but the band members certainly made the most of their shortened set and played the more energetic tunes from their recently released debut album, “Laugh, It’s a Fright,” and their older, self-released EP.
Though they only played a little over 20 minutes, Alex Schaaf and company made the most of it, utilizing all of the large assembled stage. Bassist Colin Stiemke even slipped on the carpet at one point as he roamed the stage.
The highlight of their set, besides the perpetually clear mix, was when Schaaf called Reel Big Fish’s trumpet player John Christianson on stage to join The Chairs for the band’s last tune, “Crooked Concubines.” It was a fitting end to the short but energetic set, and soon after, Reel Big Fish took the stage.
Reel Big Fish represents the classic case of a band that refuses to pander to whatever new genre mainstream pop culture embraces. The band gained popularity in the mid 1990s at the commercial peak of the third wave of ska, even signing to major label Mojo Records and appearing in the film “BASEketball.”
Ska has since lost popularity, and RBF dropped the contract with Mojo and began releasing music on the band’s own terms. The group’s set on Monday highlighted all of its big hits, such as “Trendy (Everybody’s Doin’ the Fish)” and “Sell Out.”
The crowd was not nearly as energetic as it was for Girl Talk’s set, but the remaining ska fans and those who remembered their teenage love for the band clearly enjoyed Reel Big Fish.
The great thing about RBF is that the band’s members do not take themselves too seriously, clearly shown by the lead singer’s Hawaiian shirt, slicked back 1950s-style hair cut and mutton chop sideburns, and by the band’s catchy, funny lyrics: “It’s not so bad being trendy/Everyone who looks like me is my friend!”
Reel Big Fish certainly did succeed in loosening up Lawrence’s usually reserved concert crowd, but probably not as much as if they were headlining a show specifically for ska fans.
Following Reel Big Fish, the party almost started without Girl Talk. Dancers took the stage and bone-crushing bass notes penetrated through the packed crowd without any sight of Greg Gillis.
However, Gillis soon made an unassuming entrance from the back, sneaking through the crowd to get to his table, and the night truly began.
Gillis played an electrifying set, timing the flow of peaks and valleys perfectly. The normally reserved Lawrence crowd was in it from the start, and the frenzy did not relent until the house lights came back up at the end.
The great thing about Gillis is the skill he possesses of knowing when to bring the energy down and when to bring it back up. A highlight of the night was his use of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.”
He largely presented the song as it originally was, just putting a bigger beat underneath Clarkson’s vocals. Taking out the beat to spur a massive sing along from the crowd, he built the tension to its breaking point and then hit the most satisfying climax of the night as he brought the beat back in. These tension-builders showed Gillis at his best, as he seemed to feed off the crowd, letting their vibes determine the song’s direction.
The Big Event of 2009 proved to be a great success, as the show was sold out and the crowd was pleased.
“I think that the show overall was one of the most successful campus-wide events Lawrence has had in recent years,” said Chrissie Nelson, one of the co-chairs of the event, along with Sepi Shokri.
The dynamic between the crowd on stage and the crowd on the floor worked perfectly, despite early concerns about how the flow between the floor and the stage would work.
As Nelson said, “The only prerequisite to dancing in the dance-off was to have purchased a ticket beforehand – no one needed to be the best dancer, the best-looking [person] or whatever.”
Those who wanted to dance on stage were allowed to as long as they had the motivation to get a wristband before the show, so the result was that the most motivated were the ones on stage, which worked well for the dynamic of the show.
Gillis stayed around afterwards, signing autographs and talking to fans, showing a more human side to the crazed maniac that we saw on stage. His energy was infectious, and it provided Lawrence students a moment of release and escape in the middle of midterms and papers.